Comedy, horror, drama, action, thriller, suspense, and romance are tough genres. We like to think that there’s a particular formula to acing them. Yes, there are fads that come and go, and everything that exists under that umbrella ends up being a hit amongst the masses. But in order to be truly evergreen in nature, you have to tell a story that transcends notions of generation, era, etc. Since the topic of today’s discussion is romance, I want to point out this latest trend where filmmakers are casting two attractive actors in the hopes that people are going to be too blown away by their beauty to notice the absolute lack of chemistry. And thanks to stan accounts and fan cams on social media, that trick seems to be working to a certain extent. However, I need some substance to go along with all that style and manufactured steaminess. Thankfully, that has been provided by “Somebody I Used To Know.”
Directed by Dave Franco and co-written by Franco and Alison Brie, the romantic comedy follows Ally (Brie), who works as the anchor of a reality TV show called “Dessert Island.” When it gets canceled due to its declining viewership, Ally is forced to go back to her hometown and rethink what she wants to do with her life. That’s where she runs into her ex-boyfriend, Sean (Jay Ellis), and they have a fun and adventurous night together. Ally assumes that they are going to resume their relationship, but Sean reveals that he’s actually getting married to a girl named Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons). Now, instead of leaving Sean and Cassidy alone, and because Joanne (Olga Merediz) insists Ally to document the wedding, she joins the marriage troupe with the intention of preventing the couple from being labeled as “husband” and “wife” and getting Sean back. However, the more Ally learns about Cassidy, the more she realizes that she doesn’t need to act so spitefully.
Although it’s a familiar premise, Brie and Franco highlight something that’s seldom talked about in the romance genre or its subgenres: women always need to choose between love and ambition, while men can merely wait for someone to come along who will cater to their needs. And the worst part is that women are forced to feel regret for choosing one over the other, while men are mollycoddled into thinking that they’re the victims of the feminist movement. But, instead of just lamenting about whining men and the issues that women face, Franco and Brie offer a solution. It’s an obvious one, and that’s why it’s so refreshing. They simply say that men have to come to terms with the fact that they can’t expect women to leave their aspirations behind and only support the ones that their male counterparts have. They have to adjust, too, and come up with ways to coexist. Because that’s one of the only ways to allow romance to thrive.
There’s something interesting going on with the dialogue as well to highlight Sean’s self-centeredness and Ally’s efforts to help Cassidy understand the error of her ways. Whenever Sean talks to Benny (Danny Pudi) about Cassidy and Ally, he always frames the conversation in terms of how their actions are going to impact his life. Whereas, when Cassidy and Ally are having a conversation together, Ally keeps the focus on Cassidy’s band, her parents, and her vision of the future because Sean is clearly not doing that for her. All that said, the movie doesn’t just oscillate between seriousness and complexity. The chemistry between Sean, Ally, and Cassidy is palpable, especially between Ally and Cassidy. Benny is the ethical center of the film and constantly reminds the characters and the viewers not to emulate the cliche aspects of a romance. Although they aren’t on screen much, Joanne, Libby (Julie Hagerty), Jeremy (Haley Joel Osment), and Kayla (Ayden Mayeri) are adorable and funny enough to tug at your heartstrings and make you laugh.
From a technical point of view, Franco’s filmmaking is efficient. The cinematography by Brian Lannin, the editing by Ernie Gilbert, the music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, the production design by Brandon Tonner-Connolly, and the costume design by Amanda Needham are all so lowkey that they won’t even draw your attention to them. But they subtly accentuate the amazing performances delivered by Alison Brie, Jay Ellis, and Kiersey Clemons. Brie has pretty much perfected the art of playing the “awkward White lady” over the course of the last few films and shows she has done. However, the reason it doesn’t feel repetitive is that she always finds something new to say about femininity. Hot off the heels of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Ellis shows that he is capable of oozing so much charisma that you won’t see the subtle misogyny of his character until it’s too late. Clemons starts on an aggressive note, but as Cassidy starts to get comfortable with Ally, she smoothly transitions onto her vulnerable side so that you can empathize with her character. The entire supporting cast is fantastic, with Pudi clearly being the highlight.
In conclusion, the Dave Franco directorial can seem breezy enough for a casual viewing experience. You’ll feel the romance. You’ll laugh at the characters’ antics. You’ll wish to have a wedding at a fancy villa like the ones that Cassidy and Sean are getting married in. But, at the same time, do brace yourselves for the subtle and very necessary social commentary on romantic relationships. It can either validate your feelings regarding a lot of things that are taken for granted in such relationships, or it can serve as an eye-opener. The film feels like a product of the times we are living in because it hinges on the current trend of people being laid off unceremoniously, momentarily settling back in their hometowns to find their bearings and rekindling old bonds. However (and I’m really sorry for sounding like a bad omen), looking at the current economic condition of the world, this trend is here to stay. This means that we’ll have to learn to accept these tectonic shifts in our lives. And I can’t suggest anything better than “Somebody I Used to Know” to help you on this journey you’re on with yourself, your family, and your friends.